Ikiru (1952)

Ikiru (Ikiru means ‘to live’
Directed by Akira Kurosawa
Written by Akira Kurosawa, Shinobu Hashimoto and Hideo Oguni
(number 459)

A black and white Japanese movie from the early 50s – the only other Kurosawa film I’ve watched is Seve Samurai which I thoroughly enjoy but suspect this movie is nothing like that one.

A man who has worked for decades in the same bureaucratic job finds out he has less than a year to live. This piece of storytelling is handled beautifully though – the bureaucracy shown with a group of people wanting to complain about an cesspool in their community and being sent place to place, through department after department until they’re back where they started.

The diagnosis is shown with Kanji Watanabe waiting in the doctor’s office and a talkative fellow patient explaining that if you have really bad cancer then the doctor will only say it’s a mild ulcer and to eat whatever you like… Kanji gets more and more afraid and then gets the mild ulcer diagnosis. It’s an inevitable piece of dialogue, and the emotions are sold perfectly by Takashi Shimura. You feel his fear and his sorrow just by watching the way his eyes crinkle and shine.

With this as a premise, it’s undoubtedly a movie with an aura of sadness to it. Watanabe asks what he’s been doing with his whole life? The only thing he has to show for it is the certificates of long service for his government job.

Its kind of heartbreaking how relevant this whole story line is still to modern society, like.. working endlessly at a job and not doing other stuff with your life. The way bureaucracy can wear down intention and make people not even want to try.

Does it make me love the people? I adored the novelist with his hat and his high thoughts, Toyo and her Genki outlook on life but ultimately I loved Watanabe the most. How relatable is he? I’m sure everyone at some point in time is waiting in a doctor’s office imagining the worse, or daydreaming about ‘what if I only had six months to go?’ what would you do? What could you do?

Bechdel test: Toyo talks a lot but not to other women. This movie is pretty tightly from Kanji’s point of view and the other characters pretty much talk to him.

Best line:
Kanji’s brother to his son: he’s stayed single all these 20 years for you, makes sense he’d explode eventually.

Kanji Watanabe: I can’t afford to hate anyone. I don’t have that kind of time.

Novelist: How tragic that man can never realize how beautiful life is until he is face to face with death.

State of Mind: I feel that this movie’s spiritual successor is Departures, a Japanese film I really love. It was long but it didn’t feel long to me, it wasn’t boring, there was always an emotion or an experience happening on screen.

It makes you want to go out and seize the day a bit, but it also is a calm movie so it quite made me want to sleep as well. Will seemed to enjoy it as well, although he kept trying to name all the other characters as manic pixie dream (whatevers), when really the motivation factor was Watanabe’s cancer.

Watched movie count


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